by Allan Fish
(UK 2014 77m) DVD2
1827 days in hell…with Roy Wood
p Barney Reisz d Carl Tibbetts w Charlie Brooker ph George Steel m John Opstad art Joel Collins
Jon Hamm (Matt), Rafe Spall (Potter), Oona Chaplin (Greta), Natalia Tena (Jennifer), Janet Montgomery (Beth), Rasmus Hardiker (Harry), Dan Li (Tim),
Think of Christmas specials on TV in 2014. Easy to think of Doctor Who, especially as 2014’s Christmas special was the best yuletide adventure for the Timelord there has yet been, in its way a far from cosy piece, hinting at the nightmarish world of dreams. Then there was Faye Marsay’s Shona, dancing through a sick bay to Slade, strumming her leg like a guitar. Over on Channel 4, though, something very different was brewing, no Crimbo special with Santa saving the day with his reindeer. No, kiddies, Jack Skellington has taken over Christmas with a very real nightmare.
As a whole Black Mirror has been a mixed bag, but you daredn’t miss an episode for fear of missing a corker. The first season in particular had unforgettable moments with poor Rory Kinnear’s Prime Minister given a dilemma and a half and Rupert Everett essentially playing a Simon Cowell from a nightmarish future. White Christmas is another nightmarish future, but one which leaves you feeling like Holmes after Moriarty takes his blood out pint by pint. It’s against a golden rule of inclusion, taking out one episode from a series, but the fact is that White Christmas is just too good to leave behind, as much as a warning as entertainment.
Two men, fortyish Matt and thirtyish Potter are, we are told, work colleagues, who are forced to spend Christmas together after not talking to each other for five years. Matt makes Christmas dinner while telling Potter a story, in seasonal fashion. The tale concerns Harry, who Matt provides with a unique personal service. Using latest digital and surgical technology he offers a group of reclusive geeks access to each other’s sex-scapades by inserting what he calls a Cookie into their head so their eyes become accessible to them all through a sort of high security Skype social media feed. Harry goes to a party, while Matt tells him how to pull a girl, the socially abrasive Jennifer, who offers to take him back to her flat, where it all goes wrong. Potter is horrified by the outcome, but then Matt tells of what he does for a living, and using the same invasive technology satisfies the request of an unknowing girl, Greta. Both stories have suitably horrifying conclusions, but only act as the bait for Matt to get Potter to open up about his own dark secret, a secret that brings the tale round full circle.
Brooker’s nightmare is one to make Rod Serling choke on his cigarette, and one that examines the dark void that may lie at the end of the social media tunnel. We are all too quick to ‘block’ friends on Facebook; nothing terrible, it’s part of what the politically correct brigade call safeguarding. But what if you could block people with the click of a button, so that they didn’t have to see or hear you and you could never see them. All you see is a silhouette – again like something out of Doctor Who, the old Cybermen ghost story with David Tennant – and the blocking goes further, erasing you from pictures, or even worse. It’s a world that George Orwell couldn’t have even imagined bashing out ‘1984’ on his typewriter on Jura. A world where Big Brother has taken over not just the world but your cell structure, where the very term ‘social leprosy’ becomes more real than it ever has before. Yet black though it is, making the likes of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Her or A Clockwork Orange look like benign visions of the future, it’s also blackly comic. And it’s helped by its performances; Spall is uncannily affecting as the tortured Potter, in a nightmare within a nightmare, like a demonic copy of Don Draper, a tempting Mephisto who himself comes to realise the horror of the central premise in a world where snowstorm globes fit inside each other, stretching into an eternity of total blackness. On second thoughts, Jack Skellington’s gone back to Halloween-Town, it’s far less frightening.